I am a truly ridiculous wimp when it comes to scary movies and TV. And I mean a WIMP. I will cover my eyes, bury my head in a pillow, and let out sad little whimpers the moment anything scary comes on the screen. I can’t even get through the trailer for a horror movie without my stomach doing uncomfortable flips. I actually scared myself while looking for gifs for this post because there were too many horror movie scenes. Come on, that’s wimpy! And while I can tolerate comic-book movie violence, I have a pretty low tolerance for realistic violence. I remember watching Saving Private Ryan in a class in college and I got so upset by it I ended up sitting with my eyes closed most of the time, desperately trying to ignore what I was hearing. Like I said, I’m a wimp.
But not when it comes to books! In books, I have a pretty high tolerance for scary stuff and gore. While I don’t like to read them every day, some of my favorite books are the freakiest and most explicit serial killer stories. I can read about ghosts or supernatural evil entities terrorizing humans. I can read about people trapped and pushed to their limits. I can read bloody, gruesome hand-to-hand combat described in great detail. Sure, I’ll still flip on a few extra lights, double check the door lock, or feel a little kick in my pulse when I’m reading something scary, but it’s nothing like the reaction I have to the same stuff portrayed in movies or TV. Instead, it’s kind of pleasantly exhilarating.
It took me a while to figure out, but I think one reason this happens is because I simply don’t visualize things strongly in books. I might imagine a few hazy images, but I won’t actually visualize an entire scene or focus on the gruesome/upsetting details for any length of time. In other words, my brain kind of avoids that all when it’s reading, but it can’t escape the visual and audio in movies and TV. There the scary or bloody situation is right in your face, and there’s no way to ignore it or to gloss over it. I also have a higher tolerance for the scary stuff in romance than I do in other fiction. I’ll read a bloody non-romance mystery, for instance, but I don’t find it as enjoyable, and I often find myself getting just slightly more frightened/queasy. I think the romance aspect provides that guarantee to my brain that things will be ok in the end, that there really is nothing to be scared of because the main characters will be A-OK.
What about you? Do you like scary stories, either in romance or elsewhere, or will you never sleep again after reading a scary book? Do you picture the scary stuff in your head as you read?